"Pure Water" vs. Bottled Water (in Ghana)

“Pure water” is the primary form of drinking water in Ghana.  Some Ghanaians drink water from the tap, bottle or, in places where you may find them, even the likes of clean streams and lakes.  But the primary form of water consumption, based on what I’ve observed, is via pure water. 

A conventional sachet of "pure water"

"Pure water" basically consists of about a couple of cup’s worth of drinking water (i.e. 500ml) placed within a small, handheld, mostly see-through plastic bag, which is locally referred to as a "sachet".   If you weren’t brought up in this type of system, drinking this way may seem uncomfortable and does take some getting used to.  I found it weird at first but eventually got accustomed to it.  However, I was reminded of how unconventional pure water was, from a Westerner’s perspective, when one of my homeys from the States came over to visit.  And he was like ‘how do y’all drink water out of those little bags’?

As my time progressed in Africa, I stopped relying so much on pure water and began taking bottled water.  The premiere brand of bottled water in Ghana is called Voltic.  I was drinking Voltic for some years until recently, I found myself patronizing from a shop where it was temporarily unavailable.  During that interim period, the shopkeeper was carrying some of the less-expensive brands of bottled water.  But they tasted like crap, so I decided to switch back to pure water.


Some years back a friend of called Soldier, who’s a Ghanaian, was complaining about my preference for Voltic.  What he was saying is that three bags of pure water, which are way less expensive, contain the same amount as a large bottle of Voltic.

Voltic bottled water does taste noticeably better than any brand of pure water that I know of.  But the reason I started drinking it didn't have so much to do with taste.  Rather, I usually find it hard to consume an entire sachet of water in a single sitting, so some would inevitably be left over.  But since it’s in a sachet, once you make an incision and set it upright, it’s very easy to spill.

Meanwhile, you don’t have that problem with bottled water.  The only way bottled water can spill is if you leave the cap off or loose, and then someone knocks it over.  It won’t be the result of the weight of the water shifting from one part of the container to the other, as with a pure water sachet.

But pure water has its benefits also, besides cost.  For example, those plastic sachets chill a lot quicker than plastic bottles.  So if you turn your fridge up and place pure water in the freezer, it can start icing in like 15 to 20 minutes.

Also, drinking out of a sachet is more exhilarating than using a cup or bottle.  With the latter, the process is like ‘gulp, gulp, gulp’.  If you’re really thirsty and try to drink out of a cup too fast, you may even end up momentarily choking yourself.

But with a pure water sachet, you make an incision in one of the corners with your teeth and squeeze the water into your mouth.  So you can adjust the pressure, depending on how hard you squeeze the bag.  It’s almost like squirting a water gun into your mouth.  And when you do it hard and the liquid is cold, it’s a stimulating rush, the type of which you can’t get from a cup.

You can even dislodge film from your upper gums using a strong stream of pure water.  The caveat though is that if you squeeze the sachet too hard, especially if it’s one of those cheaper brands that use thinner plastic, it can end up exploding in your hand, spilling water all over the place.  Big fun when it’s really hot outside but not so much when, say, you’re sitting at a computer, on top of a rug, or the water bursts into your face.


I’ve been to a couple of pure water factories here and there.  They aren’t difficult to find, as there are a number within of any given city, and major towns tend to have their own pure water makers also.  In one community I lived in, some dude even set up a factory in his house.

To my understanding, what pure water usually consists of is purified tap water.  So the purpose of a factory, besides using machinery to purify the water, is to package it within the plastic.  Some factories are more serious than others when it comes to actually purifying the water.  The cleaning procedure and type of plastic they package it in all contribute to the final taste.  

As such, some pure waters are superior to others.  There are innumerable brands out there, so  it can be difficult to discern.  Water is water, and when you really need it, any label will ultimately do, even the ones that don't taste well.  But most fall in the middle, being practically tasteless, as water should be, so to speak.

But again, there are some brands out there.  One that readily comes to mind is called Mount Zion To my knowledge, in can only be purchased in Somanya (where the factory is located) and its environs.  And that's how it is with most labels, as they don't tend to have national reach.  But Voltic produces pure water also, and their brand is widespread as compared to others.


The cheapest way to buy pure water is directly from the factory or one of its distributors.  By distributors, I mean the pickup trucks that drive around and deliver the wholesale bag to retailers.

This is Ghana, so if you see one those trucks driving down the road, you, as an individual, can hail one and buy the water directly.  Doing it that way will save you a cedi or two, as opposed to buying the bag from a retailer.  However, the delivery trucks are not refrigerated.  Also, they don't sell individual sachets but rather the wholesale bag.

A wholesale bag of pure water, which contains 30 sachets

A wholesale bag of pure water consists of 30 sachets.  Yesterday, I bought a bag of Voltic pure water from a retailer for GH₵9.00 cedis.  I also copped a large Voltic bottled water, which costs GH₵6.00.

The bottle is 1.5 liters or 1,500 milliliters.  Meanwhile, homegirl is selling an individual sachet of Voltic for GH₵0.40, and I'm presuming three will be discounted at GH₵1.00.  So, Soldier was absolutely right.  The bottle contains exactly three sachets.  Meanwhile, it costs six times as much than if you were to buy the sachets instead.

Does bottled water taste better than the pure water?  In my opinion, yes.  I would presume that, in terms of those I purchased yesterday, they contain the selfsame Voltic water.  But when doing a taste test between the two, it feels as if the plastic sachet has (negatively) affected the taste of the pure water.  

Some shops store bags of pure water outside in thief-proof cages.

Smaller retailers, i.e. those you may find selling a few provisions or cooked food via a stand on the roadside, often have a cooler with chilled pure water inside.  Moderately-sized or larger provision stores usually have their own refrigerator in which they keep water.

It’s not uncommon to roll up to a store that’s selling soft drinks, but when you ask for one, the seller is like ‘oh, it’s not in the fridge’.  In other words, you have to take it home and chill it yourself or tell the seller to put the drink in the fridge, and you’ll come back for it later.  Ghanaians don’t consume a lot of sugar.  So for many shopkeepers, keeping soft drinks cold is not a priority.

But you never have that problem with pure water.  If a store has a fridge and is selling pure water, by all means they’ll have some already chilled, as customers tend to popup, buy one of two sachets and go on their merry way.

Lastly, there are street hawkers who sell pure water on their heads.  Merchants of this type are common in GH, especially in the bigger towns and cities.  Sometimes, you'd be surprised what you see hawkers carrying on their heads.  In some localities, you can sit in front of your house and get virtually all of the sustenance you need from such individuals.

A street hawker selling pure water, which you can't really see
in the pic, because the sun was so bright.

The most common product of street hawkers is the likes of foodstuffs.  And considering how hot Ghana is, it's easier to come across pure water on the roadside than anything else.


I’ve been in Ghana for so long that sometimes I forget how different its culture is compared to that of the United States.  For example, I can't say that I ever remember seeing anyone stateside drinking anything out of a plastic bag, except maybe icees.

Meanwhile, plastic sachets burn easier than plastic bottles, which I would presume means they’re more environmentally friendly.  Plastic water sachets can be produced a lot cheaper than bottles.  And all things considered, I would presume that Ghana’s reliance on "pure water" is based more on economics than anything else.